LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron wants the full-time job. He desperately wants it.
For a Louisiana Cajun from Larose, La., a man who played football at Northwestern State, this is the kind of job that he grew up dreaming of taking. Four games into his interim tenure, Orgeron has laid groundwork for serious consideration.
Orgeron probably missed his best opportunity to capture the full-time job last Saturday. LSU came up just short in a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama. It’s not over yet.
While the odds are still stacked against him, Orgeron has some control over whether his name is considered. Here is a road map of what he needs to do to be the next full-time head coach of Louisiana State University.
Win the remaining schedule
This is the easy part. A win over Alabama could have bought Coach O a margin of error, but a loss means the Tigers most likely have to be perfect from here on out. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier.
LSU travels to No. 25 Arkansas this weekend to face off against a Razorbacks team that historically does exceptionally well in the month of November. Arkansas is fresh off a dominant victory against then-No. 11 Florida. LSU will have to defend against both the pass and run effectively, as Austin Allen and RB Rawleigh Williams are on pace to be All-SEC First Team members after the season.
Next, the matchup against Florida suddenly looks much less threatening. Arkansas decimated the Gators last week, making Florida look like a paper tiger. Florida’s offense is among the worst in the SEC.
LSU closes with No. 8 Texas A&M, but that game suddenly became much easier after the Aggies lost star QB Trevor Knight for at least the duration of the regular season. Backup Jake Hubenak is more than capable, but losing the dual-threat quarterback could cause the Aggies to move away from their zone-read sets, which was the most effective part of their offense.
Even with these three teams left on the schedule, the path is still there for the Tigers to finish the season 9-3, and 6-1 under Orgeron. That would at least keep his name in the conversation.
Have a plan for the offense
Even just in the short time since Orgeron took over, LSU has improved tremendously on offense. Coach O let offensive coordinator Cam Cameron go and promoted tight ends coach Steve Ensminger to the top position. With only weeks to make changes, LSU’s offense already has made significant strides.
In four games under Miles, LSU averaged just 21 points per game and 339.5 yards of offense, which would rank No. 118 and No. 117 in the nation, respectively. While two of the games were against Auburn and Wisconsin, a couple of relatively elite defenses, there were also underwhelming performances against Jacksonville State and Mississippi State.
In the four games since Orgeron took over, LSU is averaging 433.3 yards and 31.3 points per game, nearly 100 yards and 10 points more than before. That’s despite a dreadful, 125-yard shutout against Alabama. The numbers were even more dominant without that game. Quarterback Danny Etling has thrown for 200 or more yards in all three wins. He has spread the defense out enough to open running lanes.
While it’s encouraging to see how much emphasis Orgeron has put on the offense, the game against Alabama proved that a full rebuild of the offensive philosophy is necessary. The best way to do that would be hiring an offensive coach, but Alabama has proven that a coordinator can change everything too. The Crimson Tide ran a slow, plodding offense before Lane Kiffin arrived and now have an efficient killing machine.
Orgeron will have to prove to the administration that he’s willing to bring an entire philosophy change and not just try to make minor improvements in the context of a traditional pro-style offense. That includes bringing forward names that he would consider bringing on as offensive coordinator. Ultimately, college football is moving towards the spread; LSU can adapt or get left behind.
Keep the fans and boosters on his side
Fans have power, as Les Miles proved last season. Winning is the most obvious way to appease them, but that’s just enough to be satisfied. Orgeron will have to get the fans to fall in love with him and campaign for him to get the job. Luckily, he’s off to a good start.
Orgeron is the state of Louisiana. He was born and bred and is a man of the people. While Miles and Nick Saban were iconic coaches for the program – and future College Football Hall of Famers – both were outsiders. It’s been more than 20 years since LSU retained a coach from the South. It’s been 30 since he was from Louisiana.
Orgeron’s childlike enthusiasm (in a good way) and passion for the school and state of Louisiana is unrivaled. Even if LSU can hire one of its top choices, like Jimbo Fisher or Tom Herman, no one will be as incredible a cultural fit as Orgeron.
If the fans support him unconditionally by the time the search process gets into full swing, it’ll force LSU brass to at least seriously consider him. If the Miles fiasco proves one thing, it’s that public pressure really works in the state of Louisiana.